Meet You-Jeong (Alexis) Choi – One of MDABC’s Wonderful Volunteers


How did you come to be a volunteer at the MDABC?

I studied psychology at school and was quite eager to find and be in an environment that would be related to my degree. That’s when my friend posted a volunteer opportunity at MDA on Facebook. I thought volunteering here would provide me with some ideas for my future career. Then, when I came in for the training, everyone at MDA was very encouraging and supportive, so I decided to stick around.

 What kind of volunteer work have you done at MDABC?

I am one of the Office Greeters, which means we greet patients when they walk in, give them some forms to fill out, and hand over information packages. We do our best to make the first impression of MDA as warm/comfortable as possible, because it is! We also help out with simple, yet time-consuming tasks, e.g. data entry, data clean-up, filing, answering emails, putting things together in bags or envelopes, to take load off already busy staffs, or at least try. I also train new volunteers if the time works and sometimes act as a liaison with other greeters if need be. Other than that, I am responsible for taking care of plants in the office, too. 

What do you find most rewarding about doing this work?

Aside from volunteering, my work is in a one-to-one setting. So although it’s minimal, interacting with “people” at MDA is interesting enough for me. Getting hands on various small tasks prevent me from getting bored or feeling unproductive so that’s good, too. But above all, the staffs here are awesome. They are fun and very encouraging. If any greeter’s task is overwhelming, the staff will give you time until you’re ready. Once you show willingness, they will help you get prepared and will give a lot of tips and full support. Small things can be scary for someone at times but they really help you through it. So, to answer the question, the most rewarding aspect would be just being here. I learn a lot from them, from minor office tasks to treating people with respect and kindness.

What kind of programs would you like to see offered in the future?

As someone working with children and youth, I would like to see more programs or support for this age group, possibly in a variety of settings or locations. It is hard for them to find programs that are accessible enough and I want them to be able to get as much support as possible before they have to get more independent.

What are three things that you do to feel happy and well?

Anything to get my mind off work, basically. I want to have a clear distinction between life and work. So I like doing anything where I wouldn’t have to think too much. I like to drive and listen to loud music, or both at the same time. I also enjoy going for a walk with my dog in between work to get some fresh air.

The Art of Gratitude

morning sun

By Polly Guetta

Cultivating gratitude has long been recognized as a key approach to experiencing deeper levels of happiness, fulfillment, and well-being. In the seventeenth century, Dutch philosopher Rabbi Baruch Spinoza suggested that in order to develop a practice of gratitude that becomes second nature we commit to answering the following questions every day for a month:

Who or what inspired me today?
What brought me happiness today?
What brought me comfort and deep peace today?

By answering these questions daily in a journal, you can start to take more notice of the beauty and joy in life and this can lead to a meaningful change in your general outlook.  As you write down your thoughts, try to have original entries every day – this will challenge you to take note of the little things that brightened your day, touched your heart, or made you smile.

To help get you started on a daily gratitude practice, I asked some of MDABC staff and supporters to share their answers to one or more of the questions. Here are some of their entries:

From Lisa Kleiman, MDABC Support Group Facilitator:
What brought me happiness today?

I am so grateful for every single day. For sitting in my favourite coffee shop. Meeting friends, seeing family, working, volunteering, facilitating. I take nothing for granted. This time last year I was very sick and in hospital. Thinking I will never see wellness again. It was so scary to think there was no hope for recovery. I feel so blessed to have my mental health back. I am able to attend MDABC workshops to help me get even stronger. I use my tools that I have to keep myself in wellness.

I know what I almost lost and to be well today I am so very grateful.

 From Valentina Chichiniova, Counsellor at MDABC:

Who or what inspired me today? Watching an old couple holding hands and supporting one another.

What brought me happiness today?
Watching the beautiful cloudy sky and noticing the amazing variety in shades of grey, white, purple and yellow.

What brought me comfort and deep peace today? 
Talking to my mom.


From Teri Doerksen, Receptionist at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC:

Who or what inspired me today?

Martin (Executive Director of MDABC) inspired me today at the staff meeting – he reminded me that all of the work I do is to help a person with mental health issues cope and begin to recover.

Thanks for sharing everyone. If you’d like to share your gratitude post, please comment!

Stomping the Stigma: Part 1 in a Series


Thinking about the media and how it feeds mental health stigma

by Polly Guetta

“Several themes describe misconceptions about mental illness and corresponding stigmatizing attitudes. Media analyses of film and print have identified three: people with mental illness are homicidal maniacs who need to be feared; they have childlike perceptions of the world that should be marveled; or they are responsible for their illness because they have weak character.” — Patrick W. Corrigan, “Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness,” World Psychiatry

When I read the above quote, I was struck by its sad accuracy. It is certainly no wonder that people are reluctant to be open about their mental health concerns when these stereotypes continue to be reinforced by the media; nobody wants to be thought of as a potential murderer, a simple naïve child, or a weak-willed loser. As long as people continue to accept these false generalizations about mental health, stigma and mental health discrimination will, unfortunately, live on in our communities.

Although we have taken strides towards better mental health awareness in recent years, there is still a long way to go. The more that we talk about our own concerns and struggles, the more misconceptions will clear up creating room for more realistic ideas to take root. When we see someone in the public eye like Clara Hughes come forward about her own struggles, our grip on all of those negative stereotypes loosens. Wait, she not homeless, she’s not violent, she’s not weak-willed – maybe mental illness isn’t what I thought!

Encouraging people to disclose mental health concerns is one of the ways in which we can fight against stigma but as a society we need to do more. We can’t continue to foster an intolerant, prejudiced community and then expect individuals to take the risks that disclosure brings. The burden of fighting stigma cannot fall solely on the shoulders of those who are directly impacted by mental health issues. This is where the media needs to do better and stop creating programming stuffed with unrealistic portrayals, unfair characterizations, and narrow representations.

According to a report for Time to Change, an anti-stigma mental health campaign in the UK, characters with mental health problems are being depicted as more demonic and crueler than at any time in movie history. The report, Screening Madness, written by psychiatrist and film expert Dr. Peter Byrne reveals that film depictions of people with experience of mental health problems have become more damaging. Dr. Byrne writes “Mental health stereotypes have not changed over a century of cinema. If anything, the comedy is crueler and the deranged psycho killer even more demonic.”  The report also reveals that surveys have found that that the public gets its understanding of mental illness from movies, more than from any other type of media.

As consumers of media products, we have a choice of what to “buy” and what to put back on the shelf. By refusing to buy into the clichéd portrayals of mental health that media producers keep putting out, we can lead the media to start creating content that we do want to see. Consumers are tired of all of these old clichés and more importantly these stereotypes that seem so entrenched in the media are actually hurting people. People are afraid to come forward with their concerns and are therefore significantly compromising their health with sometimes tragic results.

The MDABC and similar agencies are working hard to educate the public and increase awareness of mental health because we see first-hand how stigma harms individuals, families and communities. I hope that you will join us in our fight against stigma and negative stereotyping by looking critically at the messages about mental health that the media is feeding us. If you are watching a show with some friends or family and you see something that just doesn’t sit right, why not point it out and get a conversation going? If you see articles on-line that are perpetuating stereotypes, write a comment that will help people to re-examine their assumptions. And lastly, seek out books and movies, and articles that portray people with mental health realistically and empathetically and share widely!

Meet Caer Weber – One of MDABC’s Wonderful Volunteers


How did you come to be a volunteer at the MDABC?

I started to attend one of the support groups in 2009 though I wasn’t sure I liked it at first. Too scary. All those strangers! But after a couple of times I started to like it. Then I started to think that I would really love to facilitate a group. I had done some facilitating before and really loved it. So by 2010 I was facilitating a support group weekly and just loving it. I continued to do it until 2014.

What kind of volunteer work have you done at MDABC?

Last year I decided I wanted to change what I was doing with MDABC a bit. So I came up with a proposal. I offered to be a facilitator liaison. Essentially I would help train other facilitators – now that I had 4 years under my belt – to help Catherine St. Denis, Operations Manager, in her role of connecting all of the facilitators with the organization itself. To help be that bridge. I knew Catherine had more than a full plate. I think everyone does at MDABC. That’s why they need volunteers. Anyway, I started doing that last year.

I also started to think a lot about self-care and came up with another proposal. To run an 8-week closed group focusing on self-care. I ended up doing that in the spring earlier this year After that group MDABC asked me to run some half-day workshops on self-care. So I ran three of those workshops.

I continue to be facilitator liaison, and it’s quite a bit of work and quite challenging. I am also about to do 2 more half-day workshops on self-care and especially on self-compassion. I hope to do a lot more of those and maybe add-ons to them.

What do you find most rewarding about doing this work?

First, and possibly the most important thing is that just working with the staff at MDABC has been one of the most rewarding things about this work. They have given me a lot of space to run with my ideas and I’ve never had such a great and supportive environment to work in. I am so grateful for them.

I also find that I keep trying to make the things that I do better. I keep looking at them and saying “Am I satisfied with this or do I need to change something?” It feels like a very creative process. And when I do the facilitator training and meet the new facilitators it’s invigorating and inspiring to meet all these people who really want to help. When I do my self-care workshops I learn so much from what people tell me about their struggles. I get to know what the common themes are especially with people with mental illness.

It’s all absolutely fascinating and such a learning experience for me. A real gift.

What kind of programs would you like to see offered in the future?

I’d like to see a real campaign started that focuses on self-care, self-compassion and mindfulness. Some of those things have already begun. I would like to see us keep building on that theme. I have just begun using these things in my life and I’m amazed at how much better and how much more alive I feel. I really hope people have a way to learn that they are alright just as they are and none of us need to suffer quite so much if we are kinder to ourselves and are more present in the world. A waking up to self.

What are three things that you do to feel happy and well?

Right now I need my 30 minutes of meditation before bed. I have not been able to keep a meditation practice for this long before (8 ½ months) and I am noticing huge changes in my life. I am slowing down, am more grounded, and much softer and more compassionate towards myself and to others. And when I really blow it and get really upset about something I am now turning to mindfulness to help me find my center again.

So I think 1. meditation, 2. self-compassion and 3. ice cream or chocolate at least once a week. Oh yah and to be mindful through it all. Especially when eating the ice cream or chocolate.

A Welcoming Space

Untitled design (1)

Valentina Chichiniova is the lead Canadian Certified Counsellor practicing individual and family counselling at The Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC. She has been with the Counselling and Wellness Centre since we opened our new offices in April 2015. Over the course of the summer, Valentina began decorating her counselling office with the goal of making it a cozy, inviting, and optimistic space. When we asked Valentina why she was taking the time to decorate the room, she replied: “I want it to feel homey, comfortable, and safe. The more comfortable and homey the environment, the easier it is to share about yourself and your life.”

To book an appointment for individual, couples, or family counselling with Valentina, click here to complete an intake form. Once we receive the form, our office staff will contact you directly.

Deep and Personal with Tom Dutta, Chair of the MDABC Board of Directors

tom dutta

Hi my name is Tom Dutta.  Would it be ok with you if I went deep and personal for a bit?

I’ve been associated with MDABC for over 7 years and want you to know that I’m just an average guy who has a passion to “Make the world a better place through mental health wellness”.

I’d love it if everyone on the planet knew my true story so I’m sharing it through this blog, on my video (the “about” page) and everywhere I go.  When I was young I experienced mental health issues all around me.  My mom struggled with depression and anxiety and I grew up with a military father who struggled with alcohol addiction.  My younger brother was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome in his teen years and I remember my uncle’s son was found hanging in a barn in the Fraser Valley.  When I met my wife of 20 years now, Anna, I found more incredible stories of suicide and depression in her extended and immediate family and today in my professional career I see and meet people all the time who have a story about mental health wellness.

At an early age I found success in the corporate world.  My dad was a teacher and blue collar worker and mom was a nurturer and protector….as an immigrant to Canada at age 3 I only knew how to work hard and help other people.  Life was a puzzle for me and I usually put others needs ahead of my own so I built a career starting as a bank teller and worked to live and support my family.  Thirty years later as I look back my career went from teller to CEO but there was always this dark side of me.  Anna used to tell me how wonderful I was and remark on my successes but I couldn’t see or feel it myself.  Continue reading “Deep and Personal with Tom Dutta, Chair of the MDABC Board of Directors”

An invitation to join “Peace is Every Step- a Walking Meditation Group” at the MDABC

October is a month which offers an abundance of beautiful trees changing color to gaze upon, crisp, fresh air to breathe in, and piles of leaves and acorns to crunch beneath your feet. Could there really be any better time to join a mindful walking group?

walking group

Autumn Art Therapy at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC

Top left - Art therapy facilitator Demill Keevil Top Right - Art therapy room at MDABC Bottom Left- Some of the art therapy materials Bottom Right - Close-up of materials
Top left – Art therapy facilitator Demill Keevil
Top Right – Art therapy room at MDABC
Bottom Left- Some of the art therapy materials
Bottom Right – Close-up of materials

This September we began our inaugural art therapy group for adults entitled “Art Materials and Emotional Regulation: An Arts-Based Skills Group.” This course is a six-week experiential pilot project in partnership with the Adler University Master’s of Counselling Psychology in Art Therapy Program; sessions are conducted by student art therapists and arts materials have been donated by the community to reduce the costs for participants. It is being held at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC on West Pender Street in downtown Vancouver. I can report that the course is off to a great start!

Continue reading “Autumn Art Therapy at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC”

All About Social Anxiety -A Q&A with Clinical Counselor Rose Record

paper chain

Rose Record, MA, CCC,  is a Canadian Certified Counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA).  She has a Master of Arts Degree in Counselling Psychology completed at the University of British Columbia. Rose is a member of the MDABC therapy team. This fall she will be leading therapy groups for adults on Social Anxiety and Depression, for more information go to

In your experience, how can social anxiety get in the way for people who want to feel more connected?

Social anxiety is an experience of fear, worry and/or anxiety in social situations where there is a possibility of being observed and/or scrutinized by other people. This can get in the way of feeling connected to others in many different ways.  It can lead to intense worry or fear of being embarrassed, judged, or not performing well in public and/or social situations.  It can also lead to worry that anxiety will “show” in ways such as trembling, blushing, sweating or being “lost for words”. This fear can be so intense that even thinking about or anticipating being in social situations can feel overwhelming. Common consequences of social anxiety are reduced enjoyment of social situations, limiting participation in social activities, or avoiding being in feared situations or in public altogether.

Which strategies do you use in your therapeutic practice to help clients with social anxiety?

When supporting individuals experiencing social anxiety, the first strategy is often to build an understanding of what is going on during an anxiety response and working together to determine what their unique anxiety situations and anxiety responses are (everyone is different!). Then, we start to break responses down into the thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and behaviours involved and identify strategies that can help to re-work the responses. Many of the strategies I use are aimed at looking at our patterns of thinking and challenging/replacing unhelpful patterns of thinking with thoughts that may be more fair and helpful. Through this process, we also start to uncover core beliefs that shape our thinking about others, the world and ourselves. Other strategies are aimed more at shifting behaviors in our lives such as setting goals and taking small steps to reduce avoidance and build tolerance for being in feared situations. Finally, relaxation and mindfulness strategies are introduced to help clients to tune into their bodies, to physically slow down anxiety responses and to build self-acceptance.

Do you find working with clients with social anxiety rewarding?

Absolutely! One thing I love about group therapy for social anxiety is that it provides a safe, supportive space for clients to learn, share, set goals and build coping strategies. Through that process, clients often build confidence, skills and take steps toward doing things in their lives that are important or fulfilling to them, whether that be trying something new, meeting new people or simply becoming more comfortable and confident in social situations in general.  As a therapist, it’s very powerful walking alongside clients in their therapeutic journey.

What can clients expect at the first session of the “CBT for Social Anxiety” course that you are leading?

Our first session is really about establishing a foundation from which we’ll build on for the next 8 weeks.  We’ll spend time talking about the group itself – learning what CBT is (and isn’t), building group goals, and setting up some basic structure to the sessions so everyone knows what to expect each week.  Then, we’ll talk a bit about what social anxiety is and learn the basics of what happens during an anxiety response and how to track it.  Finally, in each session we’ll learn a new relaxation or mindfulness technique and for our first session, we’ll focus on the basics of deep breathing.  In every session, some “homework” is also suggested, which basically consists of ideas for how group members can continue to practice and try out the skills we learned in class throughout the week and start to integrate them into their day-to-day lives.